Visiting New Hampshire's Biodiversity


Nancy Brook: Old-Growth Forest



Description: O
ne of the two largest remaining areas of virgin spruce-fir forest in the state occurs along Nancy Brook in the heart of the White Mountains. Due to the steepness of the mountain slopes and inaccessibility of the terrain, the trees here have never been cut. A powerful hurricane in 1938 felled many of the trees, but old individuals remain scattered throughout, and the biological legacies and ecological dynamics of an old-growth forest persist. In 1964, 460 acres of the site were designated as the Nancy Brook Scenic Area.

The first mile of the Nancy Pond Trail passes through mainly deciduous northern hardwood forest. Sugar maple, yellow birch, and beech trees are common. Soon, hemlock becomes another frequent tree species in this forest. After crossing Nancy Brook the first time, the grade steepens and paper birch, spruce, and balsam fir trees signify a transition to higher elevations. Several bouldery, forested landslide scars are crossed. Here, many of the birch trees are bent over, evidence of damage from past ice-storms which weighed the trees down and permanently bent their trunks.

The exemplary, old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest begins right at the base of the dramatic Nancy Cascades waterfall. Paper and heartleaf birch remain as significant hardwood species, especially in the understory, but the canopy is dominated almost exclusively by red spruce and balsam fir, with the occasional towering old-growth white pine tree. The slope is very steep as you ascend via switchbacks along the south side of the cascades.

Above the cascades, the heart of this virgin forest tract occurs in the areas on either side of the trail and the brook. Before reaching Nancy Pond itself, the trail passes by several acidic fen communities, one of which harbors a rare sedge species.

Directions:
Park at the trailhead on the west side of Rte. 302, several miles north of Bartlett and several miles south of Crawford Notch State Park. Take the Nancy Pond Trail up about 2.5 miles to Nancy Cascades. Several spur paths veer off to the right onto private land during the first part of this hike. Take care not to follow these, especially when descending. The trail becomes more steep and rugged as it nears the cascades. The old growth forest begins just above the top of the falls and continues for the next mile or so of trail, to Nancy Pond itself. Consult the AMC White Mountain Guide for maps and a detailed trail description.

Note: Snow may linger well into late spring at the higher elevations above the cascade, and several of the stream crossings along this trail may be difficult in high water.

Landowner:
White Mountain National Forest

Images (hold mouse over image for caption)

old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook RMA in NH (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Nancy Cascade along the Nancy Pond Trail (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Sedges and bog bridges near Nancy Pond (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Mossy boulder along the Nancy Pond Trail (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) acidic fen community near Nancy Pond (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

old-growth spruce - fir forest on the eastern ridge of Mt. Bemis above Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Boreal forest species cling to the base of an old red spruce tree at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Northern hardwood forest near the start of the Nancy Brook Trail (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) The lower portion of the Nancy Brook Trail passes through scenic northern hardwood forest (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Trailhead for the Nancy Brook Trail along Rte. 302 in Crawford Notch (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Nancy Pond trail in the upper limits of the northern hardwood forest (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

steep old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) steep old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

mossy woody debris decays on the floor of the old growth forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau) Crossing bouldery Nancy Brook about a mile below the Nancy Cascades (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

Nancy Brook old-growth forest map (click to link to larger pdf)

Exemplary old-growth high-elevation spruce - fir forest at Nancy Brook


links:
US Forest Service's web page for the Nancy Brook RNA

US National Park Service's National Natural Landmark web page for Nancy Brook 


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